Important Updates:

The city expands beta to preview its new website and gather feedback. | More Info


The City of Boulder welcomes your feedback. Use our Inquire Boulder customer service tool to tell us what’s on your mind.

boulder Disposable Bag Fee


What is the Disposable Bag Fee?

In November 2012, City Council adopted a Disposable Bag Fee Ordinance requiring a 10-cent fee for disposable plastic and paper checkout bags at all grocery stores in Boulder. The bag fee does not apply to restaurants, bulk or produce bags, newspaper bags, or any other kind of food packaging bags. At the time of adoption,  Boulder used approximately 33 million checkout bags a year, or about 342 bags per person each year

Boulder saw a 70 percent decrease in plastic bag use immediately following the implementation of the bag fee, however, that trend leveled off quickly. As of early 2018, the fee had collected approximately $1,000,000 since it went into effect in 2013.

Plastic bags are produced from non-renewable resources, are very difficult to recycle (they cannot go in Boulder’s curbside bins), and contaminate our recycling facility equipment. Plastic bags do not biodegrade, so they remain as litter in the environment. Paper bags are recyclable, but take a very large amount of water and energy to produce. The Disposable Bag Fee helps to mitigate these problems by charging a fee to consumers that choose to use disposable bags.

How to Comply

The city is here to help your store comply. Below you’ll find the resources you need, such as signage, fact sheets and cashier responses to frequent questions. Stores may provide disposable bags free of charge to any consumer that participates in a State of Colorado or federal food assistance program.

Fee Details

  • Who does the ordinance apply to?
    • All grocery stores in Boulder, defined in the ordinance as those who are within city limits, operate year-round, and are full-line self-service markets that sell a line of staple foodstuffs, meats, produce, dairy products or other perishable items.

    • This does not include restaurants, temporary vendors, vendors at the Boulder Farmers' Market, or businesses where food is an incidental part of the business (less than 2 percent of gross sales).

  • How much is the fee and how much is remitted to the City of Boulder?
    • The Disposable Bag Fee is 10 cents per disposable plastic or paper bag used at the checkout.

    • Four cents of the fee is to be retained by the retailer to cover costs of ordinance compliance and six cents is to be remitted to the city.

    • The fee is to be remitted quarterly with a return form that will be mailed to each affected business. A sample return form is available in the "Bag Fee Store Documents" list on the right side of this page.

  • How was the fee determined?
    • The City of Boulder commissioned a Disposable Bag Fee Nexus Study pdf in 2012 to determine the appropriate level and uses of the bag fee.

    • The study determined that a per-bag rate of 20 cents would be appropriate. 

    • In November 2012, City Council decided to set the Disposable Bag Fee at 10 cents per bag. It went into effect on July 1, 2013.

    • The bag fee was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was reinstated on July 1, 2020, based on guidance from public health agencies' findings showing reusable bags pose a low risk for surface transmission of the virus.


  • All grocery stores are required to display a sign in a visible location outside or inside of the business alerting customers to the city's Disposable Bag Fee. The City of Boulder will provide example signage on this website for stores to download and print. (The retained portion of the fee may be used by stores to produce signage and other educational materials.)

  • All grocery stores must record the number of disposable bags provided and the total amount of fees charged on the customer transaction receipt.

  • All paper checkout bags distributed at affected stores must be 100-percent recyclable and contain at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content.

Store Resources


- Posters

- Counter signs

- Shelf Talkers

Store documents

- Cashier responses to frequent questions

- Informational postcard in English and Spanish

- Retailer fact sheet

- Sample bag fee return form

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does the bag fee work?

    As of July 1, 2013 all grocery stores in Boulder are required to charge 10 cents for every plastic or paper bag used at the checkout. The stores retain four cents of the fee and the remaining six cents is sent to the City of Boulder to address the impacts of disposable bags in our community.  The fee is not charged on bags used inside stores such as produce bags, bulk food bags, or bags used to wrap meat or fish. It also does not apply to newspaper bags or bags provide by pharmacists.

  • What is the fee money used for?

    Stores keep four cents of the fee to order to cover their costs complying with the ordinance, training employees, etc. The remaining six cents is remitted to the City of Boulder for uses stated in the ordinance, including:

    • Administrative costs associated with developing and implementing the fee;

    • Providing reusable bags to the community;

    • Educating residents, businesses and visitors about the impacts of disposable bags;

    • Funding programs and infrastructure that allow the community to reduce waste associated with disposable bags;

    • Purchase and install equipment to minimize bag pollution, such as recycling containers;

    • Fund community cleanup events; and

    • Mitigate the effects of disposable bags on the city’s drainage system and environment.

    • *The  Disposable Bag Fee is a fee, not a tax, and therefore proceeds collected in accordance with this ordinance can only be used for the purposes listed above, and cannot be used for general government expenses.

    • Specific funding includes:

    • Initial revenue from the bag fee went to a robust marketing and education campaign about the bag fee and bag reduction. The fee also funded tens of thousands of reusable bags given away to the Boulder community.

    • The fee continues to be used to provide reusable bags to low income residents at local food banks and for education. In 2018, it funded an upgrade at the Boulder County recycling center for new equipment to help remove plastic bags from the recycling stream.

  • What stores have to collect the bag fee?

    The fee is only be charged at “food stores,” defined in the ordinance as those who are within the city limits, operate year-round, and sell a line of staple foodstuffs, meats, produce, dairy products or other perishable items. This does not include temporary vendors, vendors at farmers markets, or businesses at which food is not a significant source of revenue.

  • Has this type of ordinance been implemented elsewhere?

    Yes! Regulation most similar to ours (a fee on both paper and plastic bags) was implemented in Washington D.C. in 2009 and has been very successful. Ireland also has a fee on all types of bags. Aspen, Telluride, Breckenridge and Basalt are examples of cities here in Colorado that also have ordinances in place to reduce the use of disposable bags. A listing of other communities with similar ordinances is available at this website.

  • Why don't we just promote recycling plastic bags?

    Plastic bags are very difficult to recycle due to the limited aftermarkets for the material. They must be clean, dry, and placed in a collection container specifically for bags. These containers are available at most grocery stores and at the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM).  They cannot be recycled in Boulder’s single stream curbside program, and cause a lot of problems when residents put their recyclables in them. They clog the machinery that sort our recyclables, resulting in equipment shut-downs so that they can be cut out by hand.

  • Is banning bags a possibility?

    A ban on just plastic bags or all disposable bags were options considered by City Council. The Disposable Bag Fee is a first step towards the goal of eventually moving away from disposable bag use in Boulder. The effectiveness of the fee will be monitored and other options may be evaluated in the future. Current state law appears to prevent the adoption of bans on plastic materials by municipalities. The applicable law reads:

    C.R.S. § 25-17-104 Local Government Preemption

    No unit of local government shall require or prohibit the use or sale of specific types of plastic materials or products or restrict or mandate containers, packaging, or labeling for any consumer products.

  • How has the fee impacted the low-income population of Boulder?

    The fee does not apply to anyone who participates in a federal or state food assistance program. In addition, a portion of the revenue collected from the fee will be used to purchase reusable bags that will be distributed in advance of July 1 to the community, including low-income populations. City of Boulder staff is working with non-profits and government agencies such as EFFA, Boulder Housing Partners, Boulder County agencies, Workforce Boulder County and more to distribute bags.

  • Customers - How can I avoid paying 10 cents?

    You can avoid paying the 10 cent bag fee by using your own bag that you bring with you to the store. Some stores also offer reusable bag credits, so you could save even more than 10 cents per bag. You can also choose not to bag your purchase.

disposable bag fee video